August 7, 2006
World Tri-Tip Cup, Round 5

Folsom reader Andrew Conway says he's enjoying our World Tri-Tip Cup. This is our summer-long attempt to come up with the best wine to accompany tri-tip, quite possibly the cut of beef Californians most like to grill.

But Conway has a zany suggestion: Why not round up some white and rose wines to see how they would work with tri-tip? His proposal jarred me out of an assumption I've been making despite my frequent advice to consumers to drink pretty much whatever they want to drink with whatever food they enjoy. My assumption in these World Tri-Tip Rounds has been based on the oldtime advice to drink red wines with red meats like beef and elk, white wines with white meats like halibut and chicken. It's generally sound advice, but oversimplified and dated, failing to adequately consider how the meat, regardless of hue, is prepared, which can affect rather sharply the interplay of food and wine. Grilled chicken with a thick and sweet barbecue sauce, for one, isn't likely to go well with a modest pinot grigio, but a smooth cabernet franc or zinfandel could be just dandy.

So I liked Conway's wake-up call, and last night threw another tri-tip on the grill, this one seasoned with a Southwestern marinade a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet.

The wines were a varied selection of whites and roses. On their own, each was pleasant, especially the stylish and refreshingly fruity Simi Winery 2005 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($14) a kind of hybrid interpretation of the varietal, combining a squeeze of grapefruit typical of New Zealand's take on sauvignon blanc with California's more herbal tones. It's a nicely balanced wine, with a touch of figginess from a small portion of semillon blended into the wine.

But with tri-tip? Neither it nor the other whites, which included a husky chardonnay and a floral blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and muscat, enhanced the tri-tip, and tended to be overwhelmed by the complexity and weight of the beef, though the Simi sauvignon blanc had the most spunk with the meat. If I were to serve tri-tip to guests who included people who only drink white wines, the Simi or a similarly firm sauvignon blanc is the white varietal I'd put on the table.

The wine that went best with the beef was the Lynmar 2005 Russian River Valley Vin Gris Rose of Pinot Noir ($24). It's may be pink, but there's nothing reticent about the wine. It would be a better match for grilled salmon or chicken, but it nevertheless had the dryness, structure, spiciness, bright fruit and gripping acidity to hold its own with the tri-tip. It's a versatile wine, with the sort of fresh fruit to appeal to white-wine drinkers, the richness to appease red-wine drinkers, and the overall composure, complexity and length to be served without apology with tri-tip.

Thanks, Andrew Conway, for the suggestion.

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